In accordance with U.S. Supreme Court precedence, National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protections governing the right to strike are not absolute. Reinforcing this long-held position, the Court’s June 1, 2023 decision in Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters Local Union No. 174, U.S., No. 21-1449 found that the employer’s claims of intentional property damage by the Union – occurring during a labor dispute – were not preempted by the NLRA. A significant finding since when it comes to labor disputes, state regulation or actions are traditionally ‘preempted’ by NLRA protections if such regulation or action is even arguably protected or prohibited by the NLRA.
At the crux of the dispute were the actions of the Union in calling for a work stoppage of all Glacier cement truck drivers on a morning it knew the company was in the midst of mixing substantial amounts of concrete, loading and making deliveries. Although the drivers ignored Glacier’s instructions to finish deliveries in progress, by implementing emergency maneuvers to offload the concrete, Glacier was able to prevent significant damage to its trucks. However, all concrete mixed that day hardened and resulted in a total loss. Glacier sued the Union for damages in state court, claiming that the Union intentionally destroyed the company’s property.
Traditionally, the NLRA will not protect striking workers who fail to take “reasonable precautions” to protect their employer’s property from foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent danger due to the sudden cessation of work.[i] Because the resulting damage to Glacier’s property was both foreseeable and serious – and the Union failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the property – it lost traditional NLRA preemption protections that would have arguable protected the drivers’ conduct.
Although the Glacier case is based on a narrowly drawn set of facts, it does give employers additional property damage recovery options. Employers should keep in mind that where a unionized work stoppage causes significant property damage – that could have reasonably been avoided – NLRA preemption protections may be set aside allowing for a possible recovery in state civil court.
[i] Bethany Medical Center, N.L.R.B. 1094.